January 27, 2021

Be vigilant and move the money: NFG's January 2021 Newsletter

In NFG’s final Strike Watch blog of 2020, Manisha Vaze — Director of our Funders for a Just Economy Program — issued this call to action:

“The organizer in me is asking you to stay vigilant and move resources to where movements are directing us: to organizing, power building, and movements calling to defund the police as a pathway to community and worker justice. We have an enormous opportunity in philanthropy to truly support, through solidarity and resources, the visionary movements that are building power for systemic change.”

As we wrap up this first month of 2021 and continue to celebrate — and fund! — the Black women, women of color, Indigenous activists, and queer and trans organizers who made possible the many progressive electoral wins across the country, we at NFG are asking our community of grantmakers to heed this call to stay vigilant and resource the movements that are building power for systemic change.

The moment that we are now facing is part of the trajectory toward justice set by Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities who have been working to dismantle deliberately oppressive systems that have existed for generations. BIPOC leaders and communities have fueled long-term, power building movements and created the critical organizing infrastructure to win elections up and down ballots, defund the police, and change the predominant narratives and policies of racial capitalism — all too often at significant risk of violence, with little media attention or notice, and inadequate funding.

Philanthropy has the power and resources to fund the boldest movements for liberation, justice, and systemic change. Grantmakers can shed onerous funding practices and trust grassroots leaders to use grant funds as they see fit for the health of their organizers and movements. Funders must be more than reactive and fully lean into a vision of what is possible now that uprisings for racial justice and electoral victories led by Black organizers have opened up more opportunities for change than ever.

And NFG is here to support grantmakers with joy, creativity, and community as you remain vigilant and do this necessary work to move resources and shift power. Below are highlights from our programs for how you can keep co-conspiring with NFG this year to propel racial, economic, gender, and climate justice.

Onwards,
The NFG team


 

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

 
Amplify Fund

Amplify Fund is a funder collaborative that supports Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income communities to build power and to influence decisions about the places they live and work.

“As a Senior Program Officer, I really spend a lot of time speaking with powerful leaders across the country who are working on issues related to development and building power in their communities. They are truth tellers, all working in their respective places to challenge harmful policies and politics and fighting with their communities and their bases for just and equitable development,” says Amplify's Melody Baker.

In 2021, Amplify will continue to focus on 2 key outcomes from our Theory of Change, while reconsidering the current time limitations and distribution of decision-making power.

Video thumbnail with silhouettes of protestors and text that says, "95% of Amplify grantees are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) led. Many of the leaders are women or gender non-binary.

Keep up with Amplify through our quarterly newsletter, photos and videos on social media, and "live" events with Amplify staff, steering committee members, local funder partners and grantees.

To learn more about some of our 54 grantees, watch (and share) our newly released 7 minute video. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Democratizing Development Program (DDP)

Across the country, millions of Americans are facing eviction or on the cliff to potential homelessness. The call for short-term eviction moratoriums is not enough to heal and repair our communities and to stop homelessness. We need a housing overhaul.

In 2021, DDP will continue to bring together community voices and philanthropic leaders moving forward BIPOC organizing and policy solutions for land, housing, community ownership and power. We will further showcase intersectional frameworks and tools of the future of community development, philanthropy, and issues of gentrification, policing, evictions, and future solutions like #LandBack, community land trusts, and others.

We are starting off the year by partnering with philanthropic, health, and housing justice leaders linking the current health and housing crises to racial justice and power building. We will highlight leaders that are moving forward with land, power, and reparations strategies to advance a future of philanthropy leveraging more its assets to support Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. Join us to:

  • Strategize around intersectional approaches that protect tenants, preserve communities, and produce affordable housing solutions that build community power and community needs
  • Engage a broader range of funders at the intersections of housing, community safety and justice, education, health, jobs, climate, gender, and racial justice to center the needs of how housing is inextricably linked to a broad range of needs
  • Advance conversations on community development and ownership models that allow residents to influence local decisions and create longer-term benefits for themselves
  • Deepen philanthropic partnerships and alignment with the broader housing justice movement
     

Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG)

IRSG holds a core assertion that multiracial rural organizing is a cornerstone to a multiracial democracy, and that philanthropy has a critical role to play in building a strong participatory democracy that engages all communities.

In 2021, IRSG will offer a variety of ways for funders to connect, learn, and mobilize resources to support rural equity work — particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color led multiracial rural organizing infrastructure — in an urgent effort to strengthen our democracy. We welcome you to co-conspire with IRSG as we:

  • Launch a committee of Movement Advisors to deepen our accountability to rural community-led work
  • Offer a curated set of resources, calls to action, and timely updates from rural organizers and funders supporting rural equity in a regular newsletter
  • Share out actionable research in the form of rural infrastructure scans and funder recommendations, including a report and accompanying toolkits based on rural New York infrastructure, with actionable resources for funders across the country
  • Provide programming featuring multiracial rural organizing work on issues ranging from rural infrastructure (broadband, electric cooperatives) to agroecology (opportunities to organize and build power in rural communities based on their role in food systems), and how to sustain and build power coming out of the census and election work
     

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE)

FJE has been on a learning journey to increase consciousness around how movements and communities and workers build power, focused particularly on movements led by people of color toward racial, gender, and economic justice. FJE has begun to align our network around a common agenda, understanding new ways to liberate philanthropy’s accumulated wealth, diving deep into supporting worker and community power, and deepening our understanding of racial capitalism.

Last year, at the onset of the crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, FJE broadened its work to discuss how we can redefine safety through an exploration of the police power, police unions, and defunding the police, developing a fuller picture of workplace violence and health, and learning from experts about how proto-fascist, white nationalist, and white power groups are building towards their vision of authoritarianism and white supremacy that undergirds conservative ideology.

FJE continues the drumbeat to fund and sustain a longer-term path to power, so Black, Indigenous, and people of color, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants can realize and attain justice and build power toward a true democracy.

Coming up, FJE will be hosting our annual Policy Briefing in March to discuss how movement partners are continuing to build a powerful movement for inclusive worker power, considering both rising fascism and the new federal administration, and to share how funders can support multi-racial, multi-gender movements toward policy wins that build community and worker power, combat austerity policies, and support transformational and longer-term strategies toward racial, gender, climate and economic justice. Stay tuned for a save the date and an invitation to the 2021 FJE kick-off call for NFG members.
 

Philanthropy Forward

Fellows from Philanthropy Forward's two cohorts have been continuing to organize together as a community of visionary leaders who center racial and gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy. Check out highlights from Philanthropy Forward's fellows here.
 

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September 5, 2021

Reflections on Labor Day with Larry Williams, Jr. of UnionBase

This Labor Day, NFG’s Director of the Funders for a Just Economy program, Manisha Vaze, met with Larry Williams, Jr., Cofounder of UnionBase, and formerly a Labor and Just Transition Coordinator at the Sierra Club and President of the Progressive Workers Union. In this interview, Manisha and Larry talked about Larry’s work and his vision for the labor movement and for building worker power.  


 
Can you start off by sharing the story of why you started UnionBase? What is the central issue you are hoping to address with Unionbase?

UnionBase is a company and tech platform focused on improving the labor movement and accelerating it’s growth. We’ve been around since 2015 and started as a search engine for unions. Based on user feedback we pivoted to becoming a communication and education platform, building the tools workers need to build power in their workplace. As we started supporting workers we realized there is a serious need for educational content on how to organize and build power in the workplace. As a result we started a magazine that now serves union locals around the United States and Canada, as well as relationships with some of America’s largest unions. 

We see our mission as not only helping people join unions but also helping unions to become better partners to the communities where they work and their members live. We’re also trying to educate people about the history of work, the future of work, and our shared responsibility in directing that future. I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

It feels like there’s a resurgence of energy around worker organizing, collective bargaining, and the labor movement. What are some issues that come up as we garner more support for the labor movement?

I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

The organized labor movement can be hard to understand but is key to empowering communities, workers, and fighting climate change. For labor to continue to grow and evolve into a more diverse and powerful movement it needs to start looking outward and engaging young people. It is more likely now than anytime before that young people do not know about the history of the labor movement and its achievements. 

Though they may come from a working class family, young people may not relate to the traditional message of pride in being a worker or even identify as a “worker”.  As some employers are having trouble finding people to do in-person jobs because of COVID-19, young people are saying, “Why would I want to be a waitress or work in an office and risk my life to make a very low wage when I can work for myself?” 

Simultaneously, some young people are excited like never before to build power for themselves and their community starting in the workplace and we see that in the increasing number of organizing campaigns happening across the United States.

Can you talk more about the experience of organizing your own workplace? What did you learn and what were some challenges?

I had the blessing of experiencing first hand what can happen when workers build for a better future but forming a union. I was the first President of Progressive Workers Union (PWU), a decentralized, independent union that was started by workers employed at the Sierra Club. PWU’s organizing efforts captured the imagination of many nonprofits workers around the country when we won what has become the model for how to represent staff who work at nonprofits. 

There are many notable victories in the contract that make Sierra Club a better organization and allowed for a much better relationship between all staff and the organization’s leadership. The first contract includes many important improvements but a few worth naming are Compensatory Time, Family Sustaining Wages and improved Paid Family Leave.

Also, the entire organization now does a yearly pay review which allows the union to ensure that there is parity amongst staff across the organization and its affiliates. Every year, the union compares salary with the MIT wage scale. Through this analysis, pay inequality impacting women and people of color can be addressed. This was a unique solution we were able to negotiate through the union contract and was a victory for both the employer and employees.

What are the benefits for major organizations when they have a unionized workforce?

In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers.

There are several ways that unionized workers create more value for the organizations where they work. Most people think unions only care about wages. While fair pay is important, what people don’t realize is the respect that union workers have for the work that they do. Workers in a union are more secure in their jobs and produce better work. One thing that is core to why PWU works is that most workers come to nonprofit organizations as young people hoping to change the world. Nonprofits have an unintended habit of exploiting young workers until they burn out, then replacing them with another young person. In PWU all of the unit representatives, bargaining teams, and union leadership saw a vision for changing this paradigm, and believed that forming a union was the place to achieve a vision of changing this reality and we did it. For example, recently the Intercept wrote about how the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Micheal Brune, was stepping down. All throughout that media’s reporting, and in the internal report, you can see how many ways the union took on sexual assault cases. In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers. 

Over the past several years and throughout this pandemic, workers have been in motion – striking and demanding better wages, health protections, working conditions and benefits in solidarity with the larger community. These campaigns have also been connecting worker justice to other social movements, like the movements to divest from policing and ICE, climate justice, and disaster recovery and relief. What do you think about these new unionization and collective bargaining efforts and what are the opportunities you see for the labor movement overall?

This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed.

This moment has the potential to be a new golden age for labor and we’ve been preparing for it for the last ten years. Even prior to the pandemic, the working conditions of millions of Americans were revealed to be unbearable, and their income, which has stagnated in the face of skyrocketing living costs, is unsustainable. The pandemic has shined an even brighter light on this issue as many frontline workers lauded as heroes have been, in reality, treated as disposable. Without the protections and voice that comes with being in a union, frontline workers have been incapable of getting the hazard pay, protections, and living wages they have more than earned. Also, the labor movement has struggled to address issues of police brutality within its own membership. This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed. The only answer is that people from underrepresented and impacted communities must be supported as legitimate leadership of unions. That means not just being in the room but making sure they are leading the decision making process. 

You mentioned that we’re in a make it or break it moment. What do you see as the best path forward? How might funders be supportive?

Funders should look for the people who are building relationships and doing organizing work, who have success doing it, and then figure out what is the quickest path to get the money to them with reasonable accountability but maintaining the least amount of control possible. Then they will see what their investment can do a lot better than if they request endless reports that may not reflect the value of the work being done. The people who are doing the work often have a difficult time connecting with funding opportunities despite their record of success.

I recognize the challenge for funders: they have a lot of rules and organizational things [to consider]. But, I think that there needs to be a more light weight process for making the connection between the people who need the money and the people who have the money.

Cover of Workplace Leader, a magazine for workers by UnionBase.

Also, funders should be setting an expectation that employers follow labor law and normalize unionization. Funders can take an active role in supporting workers by setting standards for their major funding recipients. For example, funders can use the MIT family sustaining wage calculator and other normative standards that help employers and workers find agreement. That way we're all on the same side and able to seek labor peace. It's about smarter decision making, engaging employers, the employees, and funders in productive conversations.

What’s next or upcoming for you and UnionBase?

UnionBase is scaling up to continue helping workers transform themselves for a new era of work. Meanwhile, we will continue to push the organized labor movement to expand outside of its comfort zone. Many workers are asking themselves, “How do you start and run a union with values centered around justice and equity?” UnionBase will be engaging in conversations with interested unions and funders to directly support the education of workers who want to organize traditional, independent and decentralized unions. 

Thank you so much, Larry! I'm really excited to see how UnionBase will continue to bloom.

 
More resources to learn about UnionBase:
August 24, 2021

What Philanthropy can Learn from Labor Organizing: NFG's August 2021 Newsletter

I am so excited to join NFG’s Amplify Fund team. Amplify, a funder collaborative, has organized local, regional, and national funders to distribute over $8 million in power building grants to Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income organizations.

As the Fund’s inaugural Director of Learning and Communications, my skills with research, evaluation, and messaging are critical; however, I am particularly looking forward to bringing my experience in labor organizing to this role.

I have been a part of three unionized workplaces (as a public-school teacher, in city government, and at Open Society Foundations). I have also helped organize nonprofit workers. Participating in these institutions provided me with four guiding principles that are applicable (and truly essential) to philanthropic work focused on racial justice and power building.

  1. Develop clear messages and practice saying them out loud. Labor organizers spend a lot of time collecting stories, crafting talking points, and training workers to deliver consistent and clear messages. This ensures that workers are equipped to combat false narratives. It also “inoculates” workers against messaging tactics used to sway them against their own interests. Like Amplify’s grantees that deal with a slew of toxic narratives about individualism, white supremacy, and limited government responsibility, those of us who work in philanthropy deal with toxic narratives about wealth, scarcity, meritocracy, and accountability. To truly change the sector, we need to develop and practice messages that offer an alternative view and neutralize harmful narratives.
  2. Regularly track information and use it. Every labor organizer has experience developing a spreadsheet that lists out the workers in an organization, their issues, their stance on unionizing, and which actions (“structure tests”) the worker has participated in. This spreadsheet gives the organizers a sense of the current situation and helps them develop a strategic path forward. I use this concept with grantees to understand their work, and we can use this tool for funder organizing to identify activists and leaders who are challenging the status quo in the field of philanthropy.
  3. Find the actual leaders and fully support them. In labor organizing, a leader is someone respected by many. Someone who can move people. Not necessarily the person in charge or the person with the loudest voice. Some of us in philanthropy regularly challenge traditional ideas of leadership by asking ourselves: Who are the lesser-known leaders in places or issue areas that we fund? How can we find them? And how can we support them with leadership development training, capacity building support, and opportunities? However, it’s also worth asking who the leaders are within foundations, and how we can find and support them. We need them engaged if we are serious about changing philanthropy.
  4. Invest in relationships. Lastly, a theme that is common in organizing is the importance of relationship building. I have been spoiled in philanthropy. I have worked on portfolios — first at Open Society Foundations (with the Open Places Initiative) and now at Amplify Fund — that place full trust in local groups and commit to supporting these groups for a long time. This, in turn, allowed me to get to know people beyond working relationships. It is these relationships which are essential for change in local communities and in philanthropy.

I am thrilled to apply these lessons learned to Amplify Fund’s work. 

You can hear more about my story organizing in philanthropy for greater transparency and equity in NFG’s National Convening plenary panel on Accountability & Philanthropy's Role. In the meantime, I hope to build (or continue to build) relationships with all of you. To connect with me directly, email me at renata@nfg.org.

Always,
Renata Peralta
Director of Learning and Communications, Amplify Fund
 

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